In politics, simultaneous with the war on public workers, there is a war of words being waged around the country and here at home. Like many battles, both sides profess to be on the right side, which in this case is about protecting America’s future. In such a war, it is important to understand what to believe and what to doubt.
Many conservative politicians and socalled experts try to make today’s debate about government sound very complicated. They use phrases like unsustainable debt levels, unnecessary entitlement programs and under-funded pension liabilities.
Don’t let these terms fool you. Behind all the talk of fiscal responsibility and reform, this debate is the same old argument over the role of government in our lives. Not only the size of it, but also fundamentally how this country should be run.
This question is not just one of sound public policy; it is about morals. Do you believe, as a matter of principle, that we have a responsibility to help those in need? Do working people deserve a fair wage and health care in their old age? Do all people have a basic right to a good education? The list goes on.
As it happens, the rich and powerful don’t have much need for the government (that is, until their banks fail and they need to be bailed out). They would rather get rid of annoying government interference like taxes and corporate regulation. That way they can make and keep more money for themselves.
Low-income and middle-class people, on the other hand, need government programs and services very much. They also need good public sector jobs — with fair wages and benefits — which give them the opportunity to live the American dream of having a home and raising a family.
I believe very strongly in a government that helps the people it governs and takes care of the most vulnerable. We live in a time in which the wealthy are only getting wealthier, while the rest of us are losing ground. Now is not the time to be concerned with the rich and powerful — they will do fine. I cannot say the same for our members and the people who benefit from their services.
Conservatives want us to believe in the failed economic theory they have promoted for decades — the idea that when the rich do well, the poor are better off as the wealth trickles down the income ladder. We have seen over and over again that this concept does nothing for workers, and only enables the rich to grow richer. In fact, the only thing that has trickled down is this twisted logic from the federal to the state government. Gov. Cuomo, along with many Republicans, says that if we raise state and local taxes, then the rich will pack their bags and leave New York State or New York City. Politicians prefer to cut programs for the poor, who cannot afford to move anywhere. It is sad to witness such flawed reasoning on the part of our elected officials.
Instead, they should think about our obligations to teach our kids and care for the elderly and less fortunate. Likewise, the public servants who perform these tasks also deserve to be respected and compensated fairly. Again, this is not a budget issue so much as a question of our collective ethics and character. Being a New Yorker or an American means more than simply the place we live. It means we are proud of where we live and of our democratic traditions that entitle us to basic rights and freedoms protected by the Constitution, regardless of income.
Among Tea Party activists, including middle- and low-income New Yorkers who identify with them, many would agree with Americans’ inalienable rights as defined by the Constitution, but they have been persuaded — with words designed to protect powerful corporate interests — into believing that cutting public services and jobs will be good for the country. They have bought into this perverted propaganda without considering the harsh consequences. When they see their grandparents without health care, brothers and sisters with little or no job prospects, and children in danger without police on the streets, these fiscal conservatives will think again about what they believe in.
The budget deals in Albany and in Washington were almost entirely about cutting costs. For the moment, the conservatives are in control of the debate. Yes, there are budget issues that need to be addressed, but we need to tackle them while keeping our moral convictions and without simply dumping the burden upon the middle class. There are ways that both the rich and working people can all pay their fair share. That is the message we must continue to spread, and to convince others that it is right by the broadest standards. We don’t believe everything we hear and we are prepared to fight for the ideas we know are true because they endure